Is powergaming via PGC tools acceptable?

City of Heroes' Mission Architect

Any game that implements a player-generated content system runs the risk of creating a system that’s more fun — or more lucrative — than the original game itself. Players of the now-sunsetted City of Heroes, for example, were forever finding ways to turn experience and currency gain within the player-content tool known as the Mission Architect to their advantage. Imagine designing a mission with mobs that deal nothing but fire damage, then bringing your fire Tanker with her anti-fire shields to blaze through a group’s worth of mobs while soaking up the levels and loot. Overpowered? Most definitely. Fun? Frequently, especially when you just wanted to level up your 50th alt to get to the good powers. Exploitable? Some people did consider such activities to be expoits, and to pacify them, the developers brought so many nerfhammers down on the system that by the end, it was seldom used except by the most diehard storygoers.

This same battle is now being waged on the forums of Neverwinter, which game will also implement a player-generated content system that allows participants to design and play each other’s missions. Cryptic plans to curtail potential powergaming by limiting rewards earned through the tool, but there’s always a danger of limiting rewards so much they’re not worth the bother. Today, let’s discuss what you think about the potential dangers of PGC. Are powergaming and farming acceptable uses of PGC tools like the Foundry? Do you prefer studios crack down hard on people who aren’t doing it the “right” way? Or do you have a different solution?

Part of what makes games compelling are the limitations in its rules and systems. MMOs often rely on things like long leveling experiences and loot limitations to keep people playing and feeling like they’re competing with others for the best stuff. It’s inherently artificial (as of course the whole game is), but it works as a means of engagement. When people can gain an advantage by exploiting a system, it feels wrong to a lot of players because it breaks the rules already established by the game. So in the case of player-generated content, being able to use it to easily gain levels or gear is tantamount to hacking an existing dungeon, at least in the minds of players who buy into the game as it was designed.

You can of course design a game around that and allow players to create whatever they like, but then you have to be okay with losing the sort of engagement that comes with more defined rules. Loot won’t mean as much, level progression will be trivial, etc. If you want those to matter, you need stricter rules in the editors.